MAY 20TH, 2018: PENTECOST
When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled,
they were all in one place together.
And suddenly there came from the sky
a noise like a strong driving wind,
and it filled the entire house in which they were.
Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire,
which parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit
and began to speak in different tongues,
as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.
Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven staying in Jerusalem.
At this sound, they gathered in a large crowd,
but they were confused
because each one heard them speaking in his own language.
They were astounded, and in amazement they asked,
"Are not all these people who are speaking Galileans?
Then how does each of us hear them in his native language?
We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites,
inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia,
Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia,
Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene,
as well as travelers from Rome,
both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs,
yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues
of the mighty acts of God."
Brothers and sisters:
No one can say, "Jesus is Lord," except by the Holy Spirit.
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit;
there are different forms of service but the same Lord;
there are different workings but the same God
who produces all of them in everyone.
To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit
is given for some benefit.
As a body is one though it has many parts,
and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body,
so also Christ.
For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body,
whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons,
and we were all given to drink of one Spirit.
On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, "Peace be with you."
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you."
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
"Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained."
No liturgical feast is more important yet more underrated in our church than Pentecost. Were we to return to its original meaning we’d have to not only change our church government, we’d also have to change the way we picture God working in our lives.
One of the big questions that constantly came up in the early church could be expressed this way, “How do we know what the risen Jesus wants us to do in life?” The Scriptural community was certain they were called to carry on his/her ministry, but how were they practically to do that?
We Catholics long ago stopped asking that question. We learned that we’re simply to obey the hierarchical leaders Jesus set up during his earthly ministry. The pope and his bishops not only set the tone for the church, they dictate every one of our dos and don’ts. Scripture is only for extra credit. (And besides, as Luther showed, it can be horribly misleading!) The thing that eventually will lead us to eternal happiness is our faithfulness to the papacy. Though “good” Protestants can get into heaven by following the Bible, even “lukewarm” Catholics can squeeze through its pearly gates by just following the pope.
Our sacred authors – and all the first Christians – would have been amazed at such a frame of mind. In their theology and experience, Jesus left us not a religious system, but a person to carry on after him. That person was his Spirit. Only by surfacing and following that force could we be certain we’re doing what the risen Jesus wants us to do.
The coming of the Holy Spirit is so significant that, like Jesus’ resurrection, our sacred authors offer us more than one biblical theology to explain it. Luke, whose Spirit-event takes place 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection, gives us one in today’s first reading. John, whose Sprit arrives on Easter Sunday night, gives us another in our gospel pericope. And Paul uses our I Corinthian reading to remind us of the Spirit’s gifts. All three theologies are reflections on what happens when the Spirit breaks into our lives.
Among other things, Luke zeroes in on the disruptions Jesus’ Spirit brings. Those serious about carrying on her/his ministry, best get used to wind, fire and noise being part of their everyday lives. The Galilean carpenter never promised his historical disciples a tranquil existence; his Spirit follows suite with his post-resurrection disciples. If we really want to surface what God wants us to do in our lives, we’d better emulate Bette Davis’ advice, “Buckle your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride!”
John wants to make certain that those who dare to receive the Spirit had better zero in on forgiving those around them. Building communities is essential to our faith. Yet there’s no way to pull that off without constantly repairing the bridges we’ve constructed with one another. Communities don’t happen by accident.
Neither does the Body of Christ suddenly appear out of nothing. Paul is convinced the parts of that Spirit-fed body can only maintain their unique diversity when each member contributes to the whole. The Spirit not only blesses us with singular gifts, we’re to use those gifts “for some benefit.” They’re for others, not for ourselves.
Considering the dying that’s an integral part of each of these three theologies, I can see why the church eventually soft-pedaled the Spirit and began to concentrate on hierarchical rules and regulations. Far less demands on forgiving, few discussions about integrating diverse gifts into one body, and practically no wind, fire and noise. No wonder Pope Francis is meeting opposition from some of the church’s conservatives. They simply want us to return to the good old, peaceful, non-Spirit days.